Turkeys, trade, and the Avian Flu

Wisconsin State Farmer
"Bird flu" is a catch-all phrase for a variety of influenza viruses that spread among poultry. They can be very contagious and deadly among birds, but rarely spread to humans.

It was the worst Avian Flu outbreak in United States history. In 2015 the disease spread to nearly 50 million birds nationwide and led to a major economic downturn in the country’s turkey production. The estimated impact on producers was $225 million in an industry that has evolved into much more than Thanksgiving dinner.

“It created a lot of concern throughout the country and people need to understand the damages and what was at stake,” says Agricultural and Applied Economic Association (AAEA) member Metin Çakır of the University of Minnesota.

Çakır and his co-authors conducted first-of-its-kind research on Avian Flu outbreaks in the United States and recently published “The Economic Impacts of the 2015 Avian Influenza Outbreak on the U.S. Turkey Industry and the Loss Mitigating Role of Free Trade Agreements”, selected to appear in the journal Applied Economics Perspectives and Policy.

Çakır said despite the huge impact on the turkey industry, this outbreak “wasn’t  bad as it could have been.” Why? The answer coincides with controversy right now over U.S. trade agreements. Mexico, currently part of NAFTA, is responsible for more than 60 percent of U.S. turkey exports. Without that plan in place, Çakır says the $207 million in export losses during the outbreak would have been “much worse.”

“We’re looking at policies that will keep the industry from crashing,” said co-author Michael Boland. “In the future if we have an outbreak hopefully we will have trade agreements in place that will allow confidence for trade to happen.”